We’ve heard about startups backing professional sports athletes, including Fantex, which sells stocks designed to track athletes’ economic performance.
Now, Capital Sports Ventures, an eight-month-old, Washington, D.C.-based venture firm, is targeting what it argues is a much bigger market: non-professional athletes. Specifically, the firm is targeting all manner of minor league and participatory sports opportunities, from youth tournaments to startups that enable people to track their performance during sports events.
It may be far afield from the typical venture investment, but it’s a world that Capital Sports Ventures knows well. Firm founder Greg Bibb was previously EVP of business operations for the Washington Wizards NBA team and COO for the Washington Mystics WNBA team. Meanwhile, Bibb’s joint partner in the endeavor is SWaN & Legend Venture Partners, whose managing director, Fred Schaufeld, is also a partner in Monumental Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Washington Wizards; the Washington Mystics; the Washington Capitals NHL team; and the Verizon Center sports arena.
I talked with Bibb and Schaufeld recently to learn more about their plans. Our conversation has been edited for length.
What’s so interesting to you about youth tournaments?
FS: There are 10,000 professional athletes in the U.S, but hundreds of millions of sports fans out there and it’s a disjointed market.
GB: That’s right; it’s a much bigger marketplace when you look at participatory sports. There are a lot of organizations that could be very successful, that are built on the relationships and expertise of folks who’ve spent the majority of their careers in that space. But while they’ve built these tournament businesses, perhaps they don’t have the expertise that professional sports teams enjoy including around sponsorships, licensing, ancillary event creation, and so forth. We’d make an investment, keep the operator in place, let them what they do best, and we’d bring capital and expertise to the equation.
Are you disclosing how much money you’ll put to work? Have you raised a pool of capital, or will you be investing on a deal-by-deal basis?
GB: SWaN & Legend is a $70 million fund and they are our anchor tenant, however they have multiple investments in addition to [us]. The precise amount that’ll ultimately be invested into [Capital Sports] from all sources is unclear and will be based on the opportunities we find.
We have about 30 LPs altogether, most of whom are CEOs of companies [who add value to the firm]. Essentially, we’re looking for opportunities where our background can accelerate the ventures as much as money can. We run the gamut in terms of sports and entertainment experience. Ticket sales, branding, social media, event creation – there’s not an aspect of the sports entertainment space that we can’t speak to.
Have you made any investments yet?
GB: We haven’t but we’ve been close on a couple. It takes a while to go through the due diligence process. One particular case required a partnership to be created around certain regional entities around the country, but unless they could work out their partnership issues, we didn’t think we could bring the sport to the Nikes [and other major sponsors] of the world.
FS: Getting to scale takes a while. I’m personally in the ownership of four pro sports team and these things take a while. But we’re patient. And Greg is very “trend right”; he knows what’s coming up next.
What’s is coming up next, when it comes to youth sports?
GB: LaCrosse right now seems to be a sport that’s on a significant rise; you’re really starting to see it spread west across the country. Another is girls’ volleyball, which is now one of the fastest-growing and lucrative sports in the country and is played more and more at the high school and middle school level, driven by club teams. Then, of course, soccer is the old “new.” The sport was long ago established at the youth level, but it’s starting to [become popular with older kids], too, and it just expands as a generation of kids who had to educate their parents on the sport are now grown and beginning to educate their own children.
What’s the exit strategy with these types of investments, and what’s your timeline?
FS: We’ll see where the opportunities take us, but with professional leagues, some have sold to Providence Equity and people like that. Between myself and my partners, we’ve been involved with every kind of exit you can have — multiple times — and we feel comfortable letting the underlying businesses dictate [what happens].